There are only about two dozen chocolate makers in the United States who produce their own chocolate from bean-to-bar. Of these, less than half are considered small-batch or artisan producers. Many of the American artisan chocolatiers have years of experience or have spent a considerable amount of time developing their production and sourcing techniques. One artisan chocolatier, Alan McClure, seems to have almost come out of nowhere, taking the bean-to-bar artisan chocolate niche by storm.
An Unusual Path
Alan McClure never intended to spend his time unleashing the chemistry of the cacao bean. Alan was born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised largely in St. Louis. While some chocolate makers take a long and laborious path to renown, Alan didn't waste any time at all. In 2005, he was studying religion at the University of Missouri. He took a French class and took a liking to his teacher, whom he married. Viviane Ducret was a native of Lyon, France and the couple decided to spend the next year living close to her family. During this time, Alan became enamoured with French chocolate, including brands such as Valhrona and Bernachon. After a year in Viviane's native country, enjoying the sights and tastes of France, the couple moved back to Columbia, Missouri, with a mission and dream.
Building From the Bottom Up
One of the first things that Alan and Viviane did when they moved back state-side was to form the Patric Chocolate
company. Patric Chocolate was officially on paper by March of 2006. The company name is a variation of Alan's middle name, with a French flavour added to pay homage to the excellence that the company wanted to recreate. While Patric Chocolate was an official entity, the company really had no product and no facilities. For the next year, Alan McClure visited South American locales to source quality beans and also worked to develop custom-designed machinery to process the cacao beans into chocolate. Alan's brother, an engineer, helped develop many of the custom machines that are currently operating on the Patric Chocolate factory floor.
Besides sourcing and machinery, there was a lot of experimentation going on between late 2006 and early 2007. By the fall of 2006, Alan had made enough progress that the couple bought a modest sized building in downtown Columbus and began to set it up to produce chocolate on a commercial level. The factory opened for business in January of 2007. There was less than a two-year span between Alan studying religion at the University of Missouri and becoming a full-fledged artisan chocolatier. In about a six-month span, between January and July of 2007, Patric Chocolate had released a product that Alan could be proud of: a 70% dark chocolate Madagascar chocolate bar. Much of the process of chocolate making at Patric Chocolate was and is still done by hand, including bean selection and wrapping. Alan was even pressing his own cocoa butter from raw beans, a rare skill even among artisan chocolatiers.
Where They Are Today
With such a whirlwind of development and success, it's not surprising that Patric Chocolate has continued on a path of quick growth. Within one year of releasing its chocolate to the public, Alan and his company had gained recognition in national publications such as the Los Angeles Times and Gourmet Magazine. In the late summer of 2008, Alan travelled to the Slow Food Nation festival by invitation. Patric Chocolate and four other artisan producers were honoured to participate in the San Francisco event. A few short weeks later, Alan helped to found the Craft Chocolate Makers of American association.
Most of the chocolate produced by Patric Chocolate is sourced from Madagascar. Alan uses a custom-designed combination machine that grinds, refines and conches the chocolate in one pass, on a 96-hour cycle. The company is slowly branching out their product line to include cacao that is not from Madagascar; in October 2009, Patric Chocolate released a 70% Rio Caribe bar. They are also beginning to include additions, such as cocoa nibs, to some bars. Patric Chocolate is sold on the company's website and at several local Columbia establishments, including the Cellar Rat and Better Cheddar. The chocolate made by Alan McClure continues to get rave reviews by both customers and industry experts and has been regularly featured in media publications.
Albéric Guironnet →